Indian Army's 'Operation All Out' in Kashmir killed 190 terrorists, but there is reason to worry
The toll of security forces in the anti-terror operations tells another important story.
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The months that followed the killing of Burhan Wani — the young Hizbul Mujahideen commander from Kashmir's Tral — will perhaps be counted as one of the worst periods for security forces posted in Valley. Notwithstanding the law and order problem the region witnessed for nearly seven months, real danger came in the form of local recruits who joined militancy in 2017, swelling the terror ranks.
The Amarnath Yatra terror attack on July 10, 2017 - in which eight Hindu pilgrims from Gujarat were killed and at least 18 others injured - was indubitably a turning point. Then began "Operation All Out" with the security forces working hard to turn the page around, receiving success in killing the top guns of key terror groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba's Abu Dujana, and slain Hizbul commander Burhan Wani's successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, Khalid of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and the nephews of JeM chief Masood Azhar and 26/11 mastermind Zakir Ur Rehman Lakhvi.
The much-touted "Operation All Out" was a landmark of sorts, neutralising a record number of 190 terrorists till date - of these, 110 were infiltrators and 80 locals.
However, despite the success of the mission, the number of militants stands at 200 - the figure has not changed since the beginning of 2017, and that remains a worrying sign.
Top sources in the CRPF put the figure of new militant-recruits at 30-40 in South Kashmir alone. Photo: PTI
Yet, key officials of the security forces and intelligence agencies are optimistic about the situation in the Valley. "The figure may remain the same but the militant footprint, writ large in several villages, has reduced. They (militants) were out in the open, eating in residences. There is a significant slide in such activity. The locals sharing information with security forces has grown," an intelligence officer said.
"In the absence of the operations, the number of militants operating in Valley would have doubled. The edge that militants had has been lost with top commanders being eliminated," said a source.
"During 1999 the number of infiltrators was 2,000, but now number is quite less," said Ashok Prasad, former DGP, Jammu and Kashmir police and advisor to the Union home ministry.
Many in the forces believe that if militancy is contained to a low level in the Valley, it may, eventually, ebb away. But local support remains key at a time the tipping point seems to have come for Kashmiris.
The recent NIA raids targeting terror funding and the Centre's initiative to hold talks with the Valley leadership - including the appointment of former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma as a special representative for dialogue - are also being seen as positive developments.
Meanwhile, the toll of security forces in the anti-terror operations tells another important story.
In 2014, 47 security personnel were killed and 110 militants neutralised; in 2015, the toll of slain personnel dropped to 39 while 108 militants were killed and in the year 2016 - which has, historically, been a challenging year for India's security forces, a record 82 personnel were killed in anti-terror operations even as 150 militants were eliminated.
The fact remains that one of the largest spikes in militancy in Kashmir has been witnessed following the death of Burhan Wani in July 2016.
The year 2017 also saw the rise of Zakir Musa, a former Hizbul commander who launched an offshoot of al Qaeda, the Ansar Gazwat Ul Hind, which has gained local support for Salafi jihadism with the lowest number of cadres.
Riyaz Naikoo, another man in his 20s, now heads the Hizbul Mujahideen.
With few militant commanders left in the Valley, security personnel are trying to get insurgents to surrender. According to IG Kashmir Muneer Khan, 67 Valley youth have been counselled by the security forces and turned away from radicalisation.
During such a time, two successful surrenders in South Kashmir - including that of a footballer-turned-militant Majid Khan - is a shot in the arm for India's security forces. The attempt to reach out to "misguided" youth is, by far, the most heartening aspect of the anti-terror operations.
On the other hand, most of the militants, including Mugees Ahmad Mir alias Khatib of Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, picked up the gun less than a year ago and were neutralised.
In 2017, the Army prevented not only several infiltration bids, killing 66 terrorists at the Line of Control (LOC), but also the exfiltration of militants - a leading cause of arms training.
While the militants' social media influence has been curtailed, it continues to be a concern. And, even as Pakistan's role in keeping the Kashmir on the boil cannot be ruled out, the vacuum created in the absence of functional state government must be addressed.
Therefore, gaining the trust of locals and a fully-functioning state government could, at least, pave the way for a peaceful winter, till the next cycle of violence begins.